Fundraising Blog

Panning for Gold Nuggets:

The “real stuff” of development often boils down to establishing and maintaining an intimate relationship between the donor and someone within your organization.

Because you never know when this cultivated relationship might be interrupted, due to staff turnover or when Mr. Donor goes to Florida for the winter, it’s vital to think about how your donor knowledge is captured and how it can be transferred to others inside your organization.

For the nitty-gritty stuff (name, address, gift amounts and dates), it’s a no-brainer.  Most software programs have specific fields designed and structures to capture and retrieve this data upon request.

The tricky part—and, frankly, the part that is of most value to you (now) and your organization (when you move up or leave for another job)– is the way you capture, organize, and save those tidbits of information which are the “gold” in your knowledge base.

If this invaluable information exists only in your head or in the head of your CEO, or on handwritten notes in paper files or on your PDA, there is a good chance that it will not be readily available when needed.  To lose this critical information is to squander the valuable history of your organization—the foundation upon which your organization’s fundraising success is based.

We’re talking here about real insider information. You know what I mean: information about who is related to whom among your constituency, who has what special interests or has expressed a desire to help, who has a friend or relative that is highly placed in an organization related to your cause.  These invaluable pieces of information can’t be sought on a minute’s notice; they are gleaned over time through valuable relationships.  And if they aren’t stored strategically and easy to locate, then they can be lost, particularly with a change in personnel.

Here are some Prospector’s Secrets to Capturing and Storing Fundraising Gold:

Get a pan for your gold.  Define fields where essential donor information will be stored.  Be sure to have a system in place so that your successor will find this stuff.  Your system can be as simple (a field called “Notes”) or as complicated as serves your needs.  For example, you might use special fields so you can search for those whose interest is “music,” or those who have held civic office.

Listen between the lines. Focus on listening to what people say and don’t say.  Take note of special interests they might have, even if the interests are outside the area of your current needs.

Get some read insider information.  We often obtain donor information through informal routes—cocktail party conversation, on the basketball court, or a business meetings.  For example, you might learn that the library at the University is named for Mr. Donor’s mother.

Capture the emotional reasons.  Document a donor’s point of view toward a particular project—is he or she interested in the music building because young Johnnie plays the piano, or because of its architectural relation to the rest of the campus?  Then use this information the next time you contact the donor.

Keep donor clippings on news and views. Collect donor information from a variety of sources:  press, surveys you conduct or that are available to you, newsletters.  Look for great stuff:  They’re alumni of where?  They previously volunteered for Habitat for Humanity:  They’re founding members of the local theatre?  This is invaluable donor information which a good development director (and not many others) is “wired” to glean.

Track giving trends.  Find a way to track a donor’s giving trends—upwards or downwards, triggers, in the form of stocks, or memorial gifts.  You can’t act if you haven’t noted the behavior.

Assign an owner.  Record the name of each person who gathers information, when it was gathered, and where it came from so that a change of interest doesn’t catch you unawares.

Personalize your outreach.  Use this information to personalize contacts with donors; nothing conveys friendship more than someone remembering a particular interest of yours.

Show the mother lode to staffers. Make sure all staff understand the importance of this kind of information, know where this information resides, and what types of information should be gathered and recorded to enhance your records (and their job performances!).

The challenge is to craft a system to meet your needs without creating a nightmare of miscellaneous data that adds to the confusion rather than enriches your knowledge base.  By panning for gold in this way, you’ll be in a position to share your discoveries with new prospectors in support of your fundraising goals.


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